Friday, June 23, 2017

Royal Ascot - Day 5

What a race the Commonwealth Cup was and if only Harry Angel and Blue Point had reversed placings, that would have been quite a perfect evening. As it turns out, Caravaggio stamped his authority on the 3-year old sprinting division and there is nothing much between the 2 other Godolphin top sprinters as well. Can't wait for a re-match between these 3 again.

The showpiece of the last day of Royal Ascot is the Diamond Jubilee where the older sprinting brigade vie for bragging rights. One name looms large here and it is Limato. The well-liked son of Tagula will get his much-favoured fast ground on which he can put his turn of foot into deadly effect. He hasn't raced since his flop at Meydan and the excuse there is that although they were running in the desert, the ground was officially yielding on race day. If he has held anywhere his form of the past 2 years, he should be very hard to beat.

Win: Limato

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Royal Ascot - Day 4

Benbatl obliged as expected and Order of St George was just unlucky not to make it a nice double. Benbatl is definitely a horse to follow over the course of the year, he can be dangerous from a mile to a mile and a half.

The Commonwealth Cup is the center of attraction of Day 4, if not of the entire meeting. This is a regal clash of the best sprinters of the Classic generation, a mouth-watering clash between the best from Godolphin and Ballydoyle and Wesley Ward, the American trainer re-known for some of the fastest runners ever to grace Ascot. Look the winner from no other than the first 4 names on the race card; Blue Point, Bound For Nowhere, Harry Angel and Caravaggio.

Blue Point and Harry Angel represent a very strong challenge from Godolphin in a sprint division that is not usually their forte. But these 2 are genuine Group 1 performers and would be sharing favouritism were it not for the presence of the mighty Caravaggio. Out of the 2 colts from the Royal Blue silks, I give preference to Blue Point for 2 reasons; he's beaten Harry Angel before although it must be said that he was more favourably weighted on the occasion. Second, he will be fresher after 51 days of rest compared to 27 to his Godolphin counterpart. In a match race, I would go with Blue Point.

Then, there's Bound For Nowhere, whose claim to fame has been videos of him giving Lady Aurelia all she can handle on the morning gallops. If he is not usually blown away from Lady Aurelia on the track, he must good. With his trainer's fantastic record at Ascot, it would be no shock if he were to prevail.

And last, mighty unbeaten Caravaggio, the fastest ever from Ballydoyle. A son of Scat Daddy, a source of top-class horses with pure brazen speed, despite a short-lived stud career. You have a feeling that if he is on his game, there is not one mentioned that will be able to stop him. His seasonal appearance was another display of dominance that signaled he has lost none of the ability shown as a juvenile. He has yet to show any kind of chink in his armour. At evens, he looks still value.

Win: Caravaggio
Harry Angel v/s Blue Point: Blue Point
Place: Blue Point

Royal Ascot - Day 3

To the words of the Racing UK commentator, Usherette "should have won" and duly so. Barzalona got stuck sleeping along the rails and the the gaps opened too late for the Godolphin filly. Too bad but that's racing unfortunately.

I like the chances of Benbatl in the Hampton Court Stakes which runs in the next half an hour. This is a high-class son of Dubawi who pleasingly surprised me in finishing 5th in the Derby. Class saw him through in staying on in that race. Certainly, only 19 days rest is a concern going into this race but if he reproduces his form, he should be playing a major role here. I like him an an each-way option.

Order of St George looms large in the Gold Cup. There is talk about him emulating the great Yeats but he needs to get this one in the bag first. If he's on song, there is nothing in the race that can trouble him. O'Brien's horses should be picking things up after a slow start and none have a better chance than Order of St George.

Win: Order of St George
Each-way: Benbatl

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Royal Ascot - Day 2

Barney Roy and Lady Aurelia duly obliged on Day 1 and Godolphin are certainly on fire, having snatched a nice treble while Ballydoyle came up empty-handed. This will have sprung Sheikh Mo's operation in an upbeat boot after the off-field turmoil of late and I reckon there's more to come from the boys in royal blue at this meeting.

Dream Castle came up a honourable 5th in the 2000 Guineas and I think it will come up to its optimal distance of 7 furlongs in the Jersey Stakes. The son of Frankel showed green-ness on his seasonal debut in the Greenham when second to Barney Roy but showed better disposition in the Newmarket showpiece as it kept on and finished around 3 lengths off Churchill. Clearly, this is a smart colt that belongs in Group company. I believe it has live chances for a top 3 finish.

The Duke of Cambridge Stakes looks to be 3-way battle among French raider Qemah and the 2 Goldolphin fillies Laugh Aloud and Usherette. The former is a dual Group 1 winner who finished second on her seasonal return and has never been out of the first 3 in 9 outings. Laugh Aloud, from the John Gosden yard, is in top form having won her last 2 outings by a combined 8 lengths. She absolutely annihilated a Group 3 field at Epsom and her chances for hitting a hat trick of wins is real. My preference goes to the mare Usherette as she is battle-hardened at the top level and won this race last year. She hasn't won in 2 outings this year and somewhat disappointed in finishing 3rd in the 9 furlong Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan in her last race. She is proven as Ascot and this mile race will be more to her liking. There noises from connections are bullish and I think she stands to run a big race.

The Prince of Wales' Stakes is the showcase race of the week for many but there seems to be a lack of star power this year. Sure, Jack Hobbs and Highland Reel are Group 1 winners but bar these 2, the form looks bare. It is hard to gauge Jack Hobbs' form at the moment, having been rested since his Meydan win. Highland Reel almost always runs his race but it is a doubt whether 18 days rest since his win in the Coronation Cup will be enough to prevail. French raider Mekhtaal and Stoute's Ulysses are both on the upgrade and can spring a shock here. I will stay on the fence on this one but it could pay to go against market leaders Jack Hobbs and Highland Reel in this one.

Win: Usherette
Each-way: Dream Castle

Monday, June 19, 2017

Royal Ascot - Day 1

"WINGS OF EAGLES"!!! Hope you got on this Derby touch at 40/1 as mentioned on these pages. Certainly the biggest punt ever mentioned here yet. With the Derby done and dusted (and the result celebrated as it should be!), we now move focus on Ascot week, the highlight for many of the Flat season. Here are my thoughts on some of the races.

In the Queen Anne Stakes, Ribchester is a warm odds-on favourite. It's true this is not a vintage renewal and the races misses the allure of superstar milers of the past. My only concern with Ribchester is that winners of the Lockinge don't have a good record in this race over the past years. My speculation is that Lockinge winners peak early in the season and are exposed thereafter. If there is a horse that can trouble the Godolphin horse, it's Lightning Spear from the Simcock stable. This son of Pivotal was a clear second in the Lockinge on his seasonal return on his less-favoured soft surface. The better conditions at Ascot will be to his advantage but whether that is enough for him to make up the 3 lengths gap from Ribchester remains to be seen. At current odds, Lightning Spear looks like a solid each-way punt.

In the St James Palace Stakes, it's hard to see beyond the 2 market leaders Churchill and Barney Roy, arguably the 2 best milers of the Classic crop. Churchill reigned supreme in both Guineas beating the same Barney Roy at Newmarket and fellow Godolphin miler Thunder Snow at the Curragh. The son of Galileo has a near-flawless record and is the deserved favourite of the race. Should he falter, Barney Roy looks set to pick up the pieces. He still managed to be one length or so off Churchill at Newmarket while struggling with the undulations of the course. Having stayed away from the Irish showpiece, he will be well rested for this race. His connections are bullish and I certainly cannot see him out of the first 2 spots; he will either win or come out second to Churchill.

Wesley Ward, the American trainer with an amazing record at Ascot, is in again and this time with his strongest contingent yet. I think he is in a big shout to add to his tally. In the Coventry stakes, the odds of Arawak look very appealing. The trainer has found a niche of running precocious fast American colts against less-developed European counterparts and Arawak can do him justice yet again. Might be worth an each-way punt.

In the King's Stand stakes, there is a lot of buzz around Ward's Lady Aurelia and if the very fast daughter of Scat Daddy is on song, there is not one of the 17 runners that will match up with her blazing speed. Bar an accident, she should repeat as a Royal Ascot winner.

Win: Lady Aurelia
Win or Top 2: Barney Roy
Each-way: Lightning Spear, Arawak

Friday, June 2, 2017

UCL final 2017 - Juventus on the cusp of greatness

I've gone against Real Madrid the last 2 times they won the UCL final and both times they lifted the cup. However, I am more confident in the chances of Juventus, their opponents this year, than I was with Atletico Madrid, their city rivals they beat on both occasions.

Juventus has simply crushed Serie A for the past years. No team comes close to them. They started their dynasty with Pogba and Vidal and although these have left for richer pastures, the team has remained dominant in Italy. Super coach Conte has gone but newcomer Allegri has done an equally remarkable job to maintain their domestic supremacy. Europe is something they have not conquered during that period and it would be the icing on top for this team.

It is well documented that the Italians, however traditionally dominant at home, have a relatively poor record in the European Cup. Only 2 wins out of 8 finals is a stigma they desperately wish to erase. Contrast that to rivals Real Madrid which are going for their 12th win in the competition. But the past is the past and there are strong reasons to believe that this might be the year of the Old Lady. Their defence is their biggest strength. Ask Messi and the full-powered Barcelona which were brushed aside without scoring a scoring goal in the quarter finals. Ask the young Monaco team, re-known for their attacking flair and dynamic, which could only find the net once against the vaunted Italian defence. This is a very balanced team with workhorses like Marchisio and Khedira supporting the talented cast of Dybala, Higuain and Mandzukic upfront. There is no superstar they have to rely on, the whole is bigger than sum of the parts, where each part fits into a system devised by an astute manager. This is a big contrast to Real Madrid.

The Los Blancos rely on one man, Ronaldo. Take him out of the equation on a match of this significance and this team will struggle to find goals. Except maybe Ramos, their captain superlative that has been getting well-timed goals out of nowhere in their past finals.  The Whites are full of talent but they are not a balanced team. They will struggle to open up the organized and defensively-minded Italians. However, with goal-thirsty Ronaldo, they cannot be dismissed in any match.

It seems to me that the time of the Italians has come. Time for Juventus to confirm their supremacy in Europe, beyond Serie A. Time for Buffon to finally lift the coveted cup, the only one missing from his glorious resume. Time for a team other than Real or Barcelona, other than Messi or Ronaldo, to win the UCL final.

Investec Derby - Ballydoyle's least favoured can ring the till

This year's Derby is so open that more than three-quarters of the 19-runner field has a legitimate chance to win it. It is the realm of speculation to try to pick the winner. There are gaps in all the resumes and there is not really a horse that stands out; an Australia, an Authorized or a Camelot.

Ballydoyle runs six, with five of them by Galileo. Looking at the markets, there could be huge upside siding with the non-Galileo one, Wings of Eagles, currently at 60/1! What I really like about this colt by Pour Moi, a Derby winner in its own right, is the way he finished the Chester Vase, one of the best trials for the Derby in my opinion. He came third but with seemingly a lot of petrol in the tank. The mile and a half of Epsom will be right up his alley. Twenty-three days rest is perfect. The only downside is his jockey booking, Beggy, who rides the left-overs, however well-bred, for Ballydoyle. His strike rate is abysmal. Provided the Ballydoyle tactic is not to steer Wings of Eagles as a suicidal pacemaker for the rest of the stable runners, it would not surprise me to see this son of Pour Moi flying late at the finish. Beggy just needs to have him relaxed till then. Those might be big asks but at 60/1, I will be willing to take a small each-way flutter on a quite capable horse.

Each-way: Wings of Eagles

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Investec Oaks - Rhododendron on the path of Minding

Football is almost winding down with only Saturday's UCL final left and which I shall get to later. The Classic generation takes center stage in the next few days with the running of the Oaks and Derby.

We have been starved of the superpower clashes between Godolphin and Ballydoyle in the last few years. The Irish connections have simply been overwhelming by far and their reliance on the best progeny from home stallion Galileo have made them rather peer-less. Godolphin have honourably countered with the sons and daughters of Dubawi and Shamardal, and this year are throwing in some decent high-class types to stem the Irish onslaught.

Friday's Oaks pits Galileo's Rhododendron against Dubawi's Sobetsu for middle-distance bragging rights among the fillies. Rhod goes into the race as deserved favourite and there are many things to like about Ballydoyle's number one hope. This will be her 7th race and is the most experienced of the field. She's never been out of the first 3. More importantly, her breeding suggests that the Epsom's stiff mile and a half won't be a problem for her. Encouragingly, she came out second in the Guineas, having met trouble in running. She might not have won against eventual double-Guineas winner Winter but she could hardly have shown better form going into this race. Rhod is the filly to beat and if she runs to her ability, she should win.

Sobetsu's participation in the Oaks owes to the rain. She loves easing conditions and her target was actually the Prix Diane but the recent rainfall have re-routed her to Epsom. Her last win in the Group One Saint-Alary was visually impressive. She is definitely top notch and the connections are high on her hopes of winning but I will give you 3 reasons why she won't. It is questionable whether she will handle a mile and a half. She was initially trained for the 2100 metres of the Prix Diane and might be found wanting with the extra 300 metres. Her optimum distance might actually be a mile and a quarter. Her stamina concerns are compounded by the fact that she will only be on 19 days rest since her last start. Lastly, although some might say that juvenile form does not count as much, she was well beaten in her encounter against Rhod in the Group One Dubai Fillies' Mile last year. Her only hope to come on top will be the softening conditions but Rhod and some others will not mind that as well.

Juddmonte is represented by 2 Nathaniel fillies in Natavia and Enable, the latter bagging the Chesire's Oaks in impressive fashion. She is proven at the distance, will be well rested and will have Frankie Dettori in the saddle. She looks to be the main danger to Rhod.

Win: Rhododendron
Place: Enable
Won't win (Lay): Sobetsu